The Hammond Story


The Hammond Story

Man stood up and walked. He heard a bird sing and whistled back in exultant brotherhood of living things. So did music’s sunrise come, for music is the voice of man. Sound is nature’s child—the buzz, the clap, the growl, the nightingale.

In another time at another place, a rain-wet kite climbed to brave a snarling lightning bolt. Lightning plunged instant answer back to key man’s mind to nature’s power. Sparks are here and were always there, but electricity is servant to the genius of man.

The beginning of all things was in creation. Every advance is debtor to that past, but each forward in science and the arts is credit to the eyes that saw old things in a new light and combined known things in unknown ways. The minds of men who asked the curious “how” and the puzzled “why” took sounds and shaped them into music, saw sparks and tamed electricity.

The credit for every invention goes to the man who convinces the world and not to the many others who may have had the same idea. It was not a new idea in the early 1930’s to combine the ancient principles of music with the relatively new science of electricity and make the electron sing. But it was Laurens Hammond of Evanston, Illinois, whose imaginative combination of proven principles and whose stubborn perseverance give him credit for invention of the world’s first practical electrical musical instrument—the Hammond Organ.

In hundreds of thousands of homes, in tens of thousands of churches, in all those places of worship, of relaxing solitude, of merriment and conviviality, the multi-million-tongued voice of the Hammond Organ speaks the history of many centuries, a story of many parts.


Unremembered are the beginnings of music when a savage pounded on a hollow log or heard his breath become harmony through a dry marsh reed. Mythology tells how the Great God Pan pursued in love the nymph called Syrinx but lost her when her sister nymphs turned her into a reed. Pan, it was told, made a pipe of that reed to sing his love in her memory.

The Pipes of Pan, or syrinx, was known long before recorded history. And it was pipes and moving air that produced music from the first known pipe organ invented some 300 rears before Christ by Ktesibios of Greek Alexandria. His hydraulus was a collection of pipes of varying lengths that produced sounds of different pitch and color when air was forced through them under pressure. The compressed air came from a bell immersed in water, trapping air beneath it. Assistants with muscle and great endurance kept the bell supplied with air by pumping on bellows.

This cumbersome but “scientific” apparatus continued to delight its listeners through the time of its playing at the Roman games in the reign of Cicero. Nero was an accomplished hydraulus player, and if he played anything while Rome burned, it was the organ and not the fiddle. The hydraulus was still played occasionafly in the middle ages.

Byzantium, where Istanbul now stands, became the first home of the pneumatic pipe organ that developed into the huge and expensive wind instrument still played today. A monument erected at Byzantium some time before 393 shows an organ with two boys standing on bellows that supplied the pipes with air.

A well-developed organ industry was evidently prospering at Byzantium in 757 when envoys from the Emperor Constantine V brought the first one to Europe as a gift to Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne. Fifty-five years later another organ, a later and improved model it can be presumed, was presented to Charlemagne.

The organ sound caught on it seems, for about the year 950 one was built in Winchester Cathedral in England. It had 400 pipes that were supplied with air by fifty men working on twenty-six huge bellows. It was played by two musicians pounding with their fists on levers and must have sounded like noon hour in a factory district. Not for almost another 300 years was the keyboard, or manual, invented, and arrangements of levers and valves devised to replace the slides that controlled the flow of air.

It is curious to look back through time and observe the centuries upon centuries that were required to make the mechanism of the pipe organ a true musical instrument. The first known organ to have the present arrangement of black and white keys was the one installed in the Cathedral at Halberstadt in Germany in 1381. Its builders also gave it a pedal keyboard, an innovation that was not widely copied for another 400 years.

Looking backward, it may be strange to learn that scales were played on keyboard instruments with only two fingers until the 19th century. No one thought of putting the other fingers to work, for that was the approved—and only possible—way to play the portative organ. This was an instrument of the middle ages that was hung from the neck, something like an accordion is today. The left hand worked the bellows while the right hand did its best to support the organ and play its keyboard that extended awkwardly out from the body.

Flemish and German organ builders in the late 1400’s and during the early part of the next century added solo stops with timbres imitative of other musical instruments. Combinations also were added in this period which radically changed the nature of the instrument and the music it could produce. Before, all pipes of any one key sounded at the same time as in full organ manner.

The dawn of modern science is usually set at a date around 1600 when Newton, Kepler and Galileo were making their historic conjectures and experiments. Eyes everywhere opened in amazement when old things were looked at in new ways. Change and improvement became proper and possible. The hard muscle work of operating an organ was relieved by gears and levers. The famous Praetorius, or baroque, organs were the fame of Europe. By the end of the 17th century, Gottfried Silbermann in Dresden was building organs perhaps never equalled. And the nature of sound and music was subjected to its first truly scientific investigation.


Robert Hooke of England in the year 1618 demonstrated that musical tones could be created from nothing more than a little cog wheel and a pasteboard card. His toothed wheel, fastened to a revolving shaft, gave a distinctive pitch when a card was held against it. The faster the wheel turned, the greater the frequency of vibrations of the card and consequently the higher the pitch. Doubling the frequency of a note, he found, raised its pitch one octave.

“So what?” seems to have been the scientific reception to this laboratory curiosity, for it was another 150 years before the French physicist Savart fastened numerous wheels with varying number of teeth to a revolving shaft and investigated fully the pitch of the various notes when a card was held against the “sound generators.”

The early 1800’s produced an explosion of inventive and scientific genius around the western world... the first steamships, railroads, gasoline engine, the steel plow, the reaper, the electric bell, and the first electric motor. The time had come to lay the groundwork that, a hundred years later, would be melded into an electric organ by an Illinois engineer.

The electrical properties of a spinning wheel became as fascinating to men such as Faraday, Henry, Barlow and Davenport as the sounds created earlier by Hooke and Savart had fascinated them. A Vermont blacksmith named Thomas Davenport had heard by 1834 that Joseph Henry at the school now known as Princeton University had been able to make a wheel turn like a motor when the wheel was fed an electric current and held near to a small electromagnet. Henry’s motor was somewhat similar to the earlier laboratory apparatus called Barlow’s wheel. This wheel revolved when connected to a battery and placed in the field of an ordinary iron permanent magnet. Both primitive motors were based on Oersted’s discovery that the flow of every electric current creates a magnetic field around it and on Faraday’s proof that every moving magnetic field produces an electric voltage.

Davenport, pondering this strange reversible miracle,put four electromagnets around an iron wheel and made the first practical, patentable electric motor in 1834.

About thirty years later Hermann von Helmholtz showed that any ordinary musical sound is really a mixture of a number of simpler ones. Every complex tone consists of a fundamental plus a series of harmonic overtones.

All that was needed to create musical tones electrically lay at hand by 1863. Except for an early 20th century device called the telharmonium, the basic facts lay largely forgotten until 1934 when the world’s first commercially practical electric organ was patented by Laurens Hammond.

A German in Hamburg invented, in 1895, an electric clock powered by a synchronous motor that kept time by operating in phase with the alternating current from a power plant. That same year, on January 11, Mrs. William Andrew Hammond gave birth in Evanston, Illinois, to a son who was given the name of Laurens, a family name dating back to Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress. That two such disparate events in two such distant places could ever converge in one story is but another confirmation of the old cliche that truth is stranger than fiction.

Laurens Hammond was later to invent a synchronous electric clock whose motor would become an essential part of his electric organ. And he was to discover, together with all his clock competitors, that his patent had been superseded from the day he was born by an unknown tinkerer that year in Hamburg.

Young Hammond’s mother, with the unusual maiden name of Idea Louise Strong, did much to inculcate Laurens and his three sisters with the value of ideas. Having observed his increasing interest in science and invention, she encouraged him at the age of 14 to present his plan for an automatic automobile transmission to the chief engineer of the Renault Motor Car Company in Paris, where Mrs. Hammond and her children were living at the time. But that was 1909 when cars were new and a gear shift seemed good enough for anyone. The rejection of his device, however, did not dampen Laurens’ dream of becoming an inventor.

The late 19th and early 20th century were the heyday of inventors. In rapid succession there were the telegraph, the telephone, electric lights, electric Street cars, elevators, motion pictures, and even the hint of radio and television. It was all as exciting to read about as it is today for young, would-be astronauts to watch television pictures of a walk in space. And as a young boy in Switzerland, Germany and France, Laurens had opportunity to read what the great minds of Europe were producing in the amazing field of electricity.

Laurens’ mother had taken the children to Europe in 1898 following the death of her husband in order to pursue a career as a professional painter. Her work took her first to Geneva, then to Dresden, and finally to Paris where she stayed with her children until their return to Evanston in 1909.

Although Laurens Hammond still maintains that he cannot carry a tune or play an instrument, despite his invention of one of the fastest growing musical instruments, he was early exposed to music. In Dresden, possibly, he first heard the organ—and probably one designed by the great Gottfried Silbermann some century and a half before him. He also served as an acolyte at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston where more organ music struck his ear.

But engineering, science and invention were his dream, whereas one of his sisters became a famous poetess, another a violoncellist, and the third a missionary to China. He read everything he could find on inventors, and the news was full of the works of Edison, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla and others. When only sixteen years old, Laurens obtained a patent on an improved barometer that would sell for only a dollar, yet was so sensitive in measuring air pressure above sea level that it could register the difference in altitude from the floor to the top of his desk. While his invention found no ready market, it brought him $300 and taught the lesson that an invention alone is not enough; it needs a buyers’ market.

Hammond went on to college, enrolling in mechanical engineering at Cornell University. His interests were so broad and his talent so evident that he took an advanced electrical engineering examination by mistake, and passed it. He even worked out the rudiments of a hypothesis that in some respects anticipated Einstein’s theories of relativity.

The sound of music as a problem in physics and enginering was of small concern to the young Illinois student in those years preceding Amirica’s entry into the first world war. His studies plus a foray at college journalism and a nearly succesfull gambit with play writing kept him busy enough.

The play was a scenario for a movie he wrote in response to the offer of a
hundred dollar prize. The contest was staged by movie actress Pearl White who visited Cornell’s Ithaca, New York, setting to film sequences for the famous “Perils of Pauline” in which she starred.

Hammond’s plot was considered too advanced for the day, but it attracted the attention of the great playwright, actor, and producer, David Belasco. This slight contact with the world of the theater and motion pictures was later to bend his thoughts to an invention that brought him his first substantial commercial success.

Music, meanwhile, had been moving steadily toward the electric age, and it was the pipe organ that was the center of most of the inventors’ interest. Electricity, it seemed obvious, might transform the cumbersome organ into an instrument that could be played by one person with relative ease.

By the dawn of the 20th century, the wind organ had been improved by the addition of pneumatically operated devices linking the keyboards and the pipes. Charles B. Barker had developed a system of detachable electromagnets to assist his pneumatic organ system. And in 1889 Robert Hope Jones left his telephone company job to begin work on the first organ to use electricity to produce the wind supply and operate the complex machinery.

In 1909, the year Laurens Hammond returned with his family from Europe, an inventor named Thadeus Cahill had built what was undoubtedly the most curious and impractical musical “machine” ever constructed. Called an organ by its inventor, it was actually a huge room filled with electric generators of many sizes, some taller than a man. The principle of operation was based on Faraday’s dynamo—a wheel mechanically revolved between poles of a magnet creates electrical waves that vary in frequency, or pitch, depending on the size of the wheel and the rate at which it spins.

It seemed clear to Cahill that if he built enough generators, or dynamos, and built them just right, he could duplicate the wave patterns produced by an organ’s pipes. Unfortunately for Cahill, he didn’t have the developed radio amplifying tube that was invented by Lee de Forest only in 1906, so the best he could do was to hook his gargantuan steam generator assemblage to a telephone.

The weird apparatus was actually used for a while after its introduction in 1908 to provide so-called organ music to telephone subscribers in New York. The whole electromagnetic comedy came to an abrupt, verbal egg-throwing end when, it is said, the financier, J. P. Morgan, complained to the phone company that Cahill’s Telharmonium drowned out one of his very important telephone conversations.

The summer of 1914 rained on most of the world the bloodiest war that history to then had known. The course of events for nations and for men changed beyond speculation of what might have been. But for the intervention of World War I, Laurens Hammond might have continued in his job at the McCord Radiator Company in Detroit where he had gone after graduation from Cornell.

Instead, he went to France with the Army, returning after the armistice for a
two-year period of employment as chief engineer at the Gray Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan, a manufacturer of marine engines.

The interruptions of war, however, did nothing to lessen his interest in tinkering, designing, and inventing. Annoyed by the loud ticking of spring driven clocks, he invented, in 1920, a “tickless” clock in which the noisy motor was enclosed in a soundproof box. Marketed by the Ansonia Clock Company, it provided him with enough money to set himself up in business as an inventor.., and to turn his mind to the ways of clocks and the speculation of how electricity could perform this mundane but precision job.

Unknown to Hammond then was the 1914 patent application for an electric clock devised by Arthur Poole. Manufactured by Westinghouse, it survived as a competitor to the clock that would one day make the Hammond name known around the world.

The Hammond Organ perhaps had its remote beginning three years after the war when Hammond rented a loft in New York City and set up his own laboratory. There he developed a synchronous motor that revolved in phase with the 60 cycle electric power plant alternating current then becoming standard.

The following year, 1922, the tiny, efficient motor became an essential element of the first three dimensional movies. Hammond filmed scenes through two cameras fixed at the distance separating human eyes. When thrown on the screen, the overlapping pictures were viewed as a single, 3-D picture through a motor-powered device with a revolving shutter that alternately exposed the scene to one eye and then the other.

The system was sold to the Selwyn Theater in New York City through the Teleview Corporation financed by wealthy Chicagoan John Borden, whose daughter later became the wife of Adlai Stevenson. Reception by audiences and critics was enthusiastic, but the venture collapsed in thirty days for lack of continued support by the movie industry and the public. Hammond then made the system more economical by simplifying the viewing device to a pair of cardboard spectacles with one eyepiece red and the other green. It was this 3-D version that was revived for a short while in the 1930’s and again in the 1950’s. In 1922 it was used for spectacular stage effects in the Ziegfeld Follies.

Income from the Ziegfeld Follies invention permitted Hammond to marry and take a leisurely tour of Europe. But by 1925 the revenue ceased and it was necessary, with a child on the way in their Evanston home, to find work. An idea for cutting electrical bills for New York theaters was washed out when General Electric found a forgotten patent covering the invention. A process for refining sugar with 80 percent efficiency collapsed when someone else patented a 79 percent efficient method. The several patents Hammond had obtained—including one for an electric clock—seemed unmarketable.

Although Western Electric offered him a job, Hammond decided to stay in the inventing field. His choice was partly determined by a meeting with E. F. Andrews of the Andrews Radio Company. They found they thought alike and so, after liquidating the tottering radio firm, founded the Andrews-Hammond Laboratory.

Now thinking about radio, they sought some way to operate those early day battery powered receivers with household alternating current. The solution was the “A-Box” that changed alternating to direct current for the radio.

Conceived in their little laboratory over an Evanston, Illinois, grocery store, the A-Box battery eliminator was soon in production.

A radio industry show in 1926 was the scene of recruitment of an employee badly needed by the research-oriented Hammond and Andrews—a salesman. Emory Penny, demonstrating his sales ability at the show, caught the eye of Laurens Hammond. Quickly agreement was reached that Penny would come to Evanston as sales manager of the A-Box Company. Also recruited in this period was a businessman whose organizational and administrative abilities
were to prove of inestimable value to Hammond enterprises—Forrest H. Redmond. In summarizing the characteristics of this operational “chief”, veteran employees say “Redmond ran a taut ship.”

Redmond as vice president and Penny as sales manager of the A-Box Company soon demonstrated the business ability that was to make the Hammond Organ the industry leader. Penny’s phenomenal sales ability helped run up profits of $175,000 until, once again, the O seemingly inevitable happened. Disaster struck when complaints began to flow in that the converters were exploding, throwing acid on owners’ rugs and furniture. And then the radio industry brought out receivers that could be plugged directly into wall outlets. The patent was sold to the Edison Storage Battery Company, but it seemed that everything Laurens Hammond touched was doomed to failure or very brief survival.

In 1928, George H. Stephens became Hammond’s chief engineer, a position he held until his retirement in 1959. In that capacity, he established the Hammond reputation for outstanding quality in all its products which has distinguished the company over the years. He was directly responsible for the final manufacturing design of all Hammond products, ranging from clocks and electric bridge tables to electric organs and World War II aircraft control devices. He was granted more than 20 patents in these and allied fields.

The lights had always burned late in Laurens Hammond’s laboratory and one result was a perfected electric clock using ideas from his sound-proofed “tickless” clock and his synchronous electric motor. In 1928, the Hammond Clock Company was incorporated under the laws of Illinois with Redmond as general manager and Penny as sales manager. The factory was still a loft over an Evanston grocery store.

The Hammond Clock was the original product of the company which changed its name  to Hammond Instrument Company in 1937 and to Hammond Organ Company in 1953.

Hammond’s fortunes at last began to soar, even though the competition was stiff. Westinghouse was marketing an electric clock based on the Arthur Poole patent and General Electric was selling one invented by Henry Ellis Warren. The Hammond Clock, however, was simpler to manufacture and hence less expensive. By 1931, the Hammond Clock Company, incorporated under the laws of Delaware since 1930, had profits of S507,720 (and, if you can remember, Federal Income Taxes in that day were only $69,627’).

It was in 1931 that a man joined the company who was to play an important role in the manufacturing of Hammond products. First as works manager and later as vice-president for manufacturing, Arnold H. Lesser made an important contribution both to manufacturing operations and to fostering good employee relations.

Employees still with the company from its earliest days recall the difficulty with the clocks because of the inability or disinterest of the power companies in keeping their current at a steady 60 cycles a second. The ingenious solution was to have Hammond salesmen give an electric clock to every electric utility engineer in charge of the current’s frequency. Thus, to be sure his clock would operate perfectly, in his home, the engineer would keep constant check of his generating equipment at the power plant.

The company was prospering in 1930 as the clouds of the Great Depression drew ever closer. The factory had been moved from Evanston to a plant on Ravenswood Avenue in Chicago and then to a five-story red brick building at 2915 North Western Avenue, a location now one of many Hammond Organ manufacturing sites.

                     The Hammond Electric Bridge Table made its debut in 1932.  

Competition, however, was spelled by many names. So glutted was the market with electric clocks—and so penniless much of America’s population—that the bottom fell out. One hundred and fifty clock companies went out of business in 1932 and dumped their remaining inventory for whatever price they could get.

The Hammond Clock Company shook to its financial foundations. From net earnings of $507,720 for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1931, gloom descended by the next March end to a net loss of $34,129. By 1933, the net loss was $240,844.

Wrigley chewing gum helped a little by using a half million 89~ plastic Hammond Clocks as premiums, but still the effect on the Hammond treasury was insignificant.

The company was possibly saved from the pit of bankruptcy by the head clock salesman, William Hetznecker. He obtained a $75,000 advance on a sizeable order from the Postal Telegraph Company for the large, 12- to 15-inch dial clocks that are still often seen keeping accurate time in many storefronts across the nation.

The nation was crying in despair and alarm in the summer of 1931. Banks were failing by the scores. Some 5 million workers were unemployed, comparable to having almost 8 million out of work in today’s larger population. President Hoover had started emergency relief and public works projects. Jobs were hard to find.

Graduated that spring from Chicago’s Schurz High School was Stanley M. Sorensen. He was interested in accounting as a step toward a business career, but it was plain that he would have to get a job, save his money, and make his way on his own.

He made his way to a series of employers with discouraging results until he entered the door of the Hammond Clock Company. Yes, a mail boy was needed. Would he go to work for eight dollars a week? With only a moment’s hesitation about this bare minimal pay, Sorensen accepted. He knew that at only 16 years of age he was competing with men with hungry families. In 1955, Sorensen was to become president of Hammond Organ Company. Laurens Hammond, in the summer of 1932, perfected a device that shuffled a pack of cards into four piles and had decided to build the mechanism into a bridge table. The bridge table was patented that November and 14,000 were made and sold by Christmas at the rather high depression era price of $25, but the line was discontinued, primarily because the national income had fallen to 60 percent of its 1929 level.

Laurens Hammond was an avid and acute reader with a remarkable memory for playing information, even in areas remote from his mechanical engineering education and his interest in electricity and other physical phenomena. His research into areas of new interest was thorough.

Undoubtedly by 1933 Hammond had a reading acquaintance with developments in electrical and electronic production of musical sound. Duddel had demonstrated pure electronic musical tone generation in 1899 and Cahill’s powerplant-size electric organ had received wide publicity.

Names prominent in this work included Miller, Bethenod, DeForest, Mager, Coupleaux and Givelet, Vierling and Kock, Langer, Helberger and Lertes. Theremin had developed an electric musical instrument bearing his name, and Telefunken in Germany had marketed the Trautonium. By 1931, Ranger’s pipeless organ was played for a time on radio station WOR in Newark, New Jersey. Hoschke had developed what he called the Orgatron, an electrically powered windblown harmonium reed organ. And in Cincinnati, Ohio, Thomas George, a young telephone engineer and amateur organist, was building an electronic organ as a hobby in his spare time.

The wind pipe organ that was precursor to the Hammond Organ had experienced a revival of interest during the period of the silent movies when it was used to accompany the action on the screen. Improvements had been concentrated on the development of imitative sounds and new and unusual “noises.” As more and more sound effects were demanded, keyboards and pipes multiplied. Laymen were entranced with the skill of an organist who could control all the keys and stops and pedals of an instrument whose console seemed to approach the appearance of the end of a football bowl. Architects were as challenged in finding space for the pipes as they were in arranging seating room for the audience.

The disease of pipe organ gigantism probably began at the St. Louis Fair of 1904. An organ installed there, and called quite correctly at the time the “world’s greatest organ, had five manuals, 232 stops and 18,000 pipes. It was later moved to the John Wanamaker store in Philadelphia where, in 1917, it was approximately doubled in size. But even it had to yield its title in 1932 to the organ installed in Convention Hall at Atlantic City, New Jersey. This behemoth had seven manuals, 1,233 stops and 32,882 pipes. Clearly something a bit more compact was desirable.

In the centuries of the developing and changing pipe organ, the music played on it changed in many ways, too. For some unexplained reason, music manuscripts used by orcanists did not survive the ages preceding the 14th century, but music historians speculate that the music was probably purely vocal in nature and with just one melody. The melody may occasionally have been augmented by a second part, as is indicated by a 9th century illustration of a second player.

The introduction in the 14th century of polyphonic playing on keyboard instruments greatly influenced changes in the wind organ over some 200 years. The exciting discovery of the 16th century was the sound- of mixed and contrasting timbres created by the solo stops, or slides, that controlled the wind. These counterbalance the antipolyphonic fifths and even thirds of the compound stops. The music was thus given a tonal quality that is still regarded as the organ’s most distinctive feature, whether the sound is produced by wind or by electricity.

By 1703 when the first known organ in America was played in Philadelphia, the tone colors had become softened while retaining the transparent, silvery timbre. Vibrato effects were popular, and invention of the crescendo pedal, or Nag’s Head Swell, gave organ music the radical sound characteristic of the romantic period that lasted to about 1840. After 1900, organ builders and players returned to the Baroque organ of Praetorius and Silbermann and the powerful polyphony of Handel, Bach and Couperin.

About 1800 the German priest and organist, Abbe Vogler, built an organ that avoided mixtures but increased expression with the aim of giving a true picture of a well-organized orchestra. Musicians of the day, however, rejected it because it achieved exactly what Vogler intended, an ironic reaction that was to be encountered in somewhat similar form by Hammond Organ Company.

In time, the organ did enter the concert hall after centuries of being almost exclusively a church instrument. As a consequence, the principal stops yanished in a maze of solo stops that imitated orchestral instruments. Our present century brought the church and theater organ to its present and perhaps final stage of development just at the threshold of introduction of the electric organ.

The exact point at which a new idea is conceived is usually difficult if not impossible to pinpoint. That Laurens Hammond turned his non-musical mind to the invention of electric music, howeyer, is generally traced to his search for products that could use his synchronous motor.

The constant sound of phonograph record music from the fourth floor test room plus the weird electrical sounds squeaking from Hammond’s third floor lab at the Western Avenue plant literally made the building tremble at times. The music became a din that hardly increased the efficiency of employees in the company’s grim financial year of 1933. None but a trained musician could filter out a single note from the welter of musical tones.

One musician did. He was William L. Lahey, assistant treasurer, and also organist at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Chicago’s contiguous western suburb of Oak Park. At the end of one particularly ear-shattering day, Hammond approached Lahey. “Bill,” he asked, “did you hear any unusual sound distinctly today?” Lahey said that he had noted something, a flute sound. “Well,” replied Hammond, “I’ve made an electric flute.” That one note of the flute, the wind organ’s first solo stop of more than 400 years earlier, became the genesis of the electric organ.

The heart of the musical apparatus heard from the third floor laboratory was a tone wheel generator. About the size of a silver dollar, the wheel was made with a patterned edge of protruding humps or rounded, cog-like projections. In principle not unlike the mechanical tone wheels of Hooke in 1681 and of Savart in 1830, Hammond’s wheel revolved in front of an electromagnet instead of a paperboard card.

As those early electrical experimenters Oerstedt, Faraday and Henry had shown, moving metal in the field of a magnet produces an electrical current. The disturbance of the magnetic lines around the magnet varies in nature and intensity with the speed and distance of the wheel. It was Hammond’s theory that bumps on the rim of the wheel would disturb the magnetic field just as well as moving the wheel forward and backward or changing its size.

And it worked. By winding a wire around the magnet he was able to pick up this induced fluctuating current and feed it into a radio amplifier. There the tiny current was built up to a level where it would work a loudspeaker and disturb the air in a room so that human ears could pick up the sound waves.

He had generated electricity just as many before him had done, but he had discovered how to evoke exactly those electrical wave patterns that could be converted to musical notes. And the basic apparatus was as simple as a cog wheel on a shaft turned by a synchronous motor. Yet a single pure note of the musical scale, or even all the notes, could not produce the multi-wave sounds that are the essence of music.

The group of engineers that was assembled to help in what seemed the completely impossible job of duplicating all the sounds of a pipe organ found complexities crowding them out of the lab. At one time there was an assemblage of enough tone wheel generators, switches, and wiring to stock a warehouse. This apparatus produced music of a sort but it hardly met Hammond’s specifications for a relatively inexpensive instrument of rugged construction, easy to care for and, hopefully then, of a size “small enough to carry in the back seat of a taxicab.”

One day Hammond bought a second-hand piano for $15 and had it carted to his lab. He dismantled it, saving only the keyboard, which he equipped with simple switches connecting each key to the two wires that led across the room to a threaded maze of circuitry.

Then occurred one of those fortuitous discoveries that have so often led to great inventions and progressive theories. The wires leading from the little, chisel-nosed magnets that generated pure frequency tones were hooked together and attached to one of the piano keys. A new sound was produced! One tone blended with the other to produce a third and mote complex wave pattern. Another generator’s sound was added, then another, until it became certain that a combination of the right wire connections could build millions of tones from a limited number of generator wheels. All that remained to be done was to do it.

All through the remainder of 1933 and into 1934 the days of work were intense and long. And it was not enough to produce pleasant and recognizable sounds. They must be connected to a keyboard that musicians would accept. The previously demonstrated electronic instrument that was played by waving the hands near its antennae, the Theremin, never became a generally accepted instrument.

After months of laborious experimentation, Hammond and his aides concluded that 91 tone wheels of different shapes were sufficient to produce all the sounds required for the combinations most pleasant and familiar to the human ear. However, it was necessary that they revolve at different speeds, so precisley accurate gearing had to be developed to transmit the power from a single shaft to each wheel. Hammond’s “flea power” synchronous motor, rated at oniy about one one-hundredth of a horsepower, kept the shaft spinning at a constant speed. Only when a key on the manual was depressed would a series of switches close and send a combination of tone wheel sounds to the amplifier and on to the loudspeaker. For example, the sound from the wheel whose humps passed the magnet at the rate of 440 a second produced the international standard note of “A.”

Pure, single wave notes, or fundamentals, produce recognizable and acceptable music. However, like the relatively pure notes of the flute, such music can become monotonous and strident unless “mellowed” or colored by other sounds such as that of the violin with its many harmonics. The builders of the first Hammond Organ knew they would have to make these other sounds, above and below the fundamental, available to the player. And they knew that the volume or intensity of each tone would have to be controlled.

The solution was found in a complexity of some 1,500 tiny switches with long-wearing paladium contact points and eight-and-a-half miles of wire, some as thin as a human hair. Each key on the manual depressed nine switches. Each switch was connected to different drawbars situated above the keyboard. It is these unique Hammond harmonic drawbars that permitted the Hammond player to mix fundamental tones with overtones and control the volume of each of these ingredients in the musical melange of sound. Sometimes called “tonebars”, they can be set to produce millions of different tones.

The testing of the first prototype model began in 1933 when Lahey came from his treasury division office, pulled up a bench, and played Brahms’ First Symphony. Soon two organist-typists were employed to take turns playing the instrument hour after hour and day after day. News of the miraculous invention leaked out and visitors from many parts of the world dropped in at Hammond’s Western Avenue plant to listen in admiration.

As winter came, the organ builders focused all efforts on perfecting the mechanism of the tone generator, the circuits that carried the miniscule current from the 91 magnets, the transformer that blended the tones, and the amplifier and speaker that produced the sound of music. It was a race against a rapidly mounting company deficit and against the possibility that some other inventor might design a marketable electro-mechanical or electronic organ.

Misfortune seemed once again to shadow Laurens Hammond.The treasurer’s projection indicated that the company would lose almost a quarter of a million dollars for the fiscal year. By January of 1934 the time for action could no longer be delayed. Hammond packed up the “packing box prototype” organ and took it directly to the United States patent office in Washington, D.C. There it was set up in the building’s basement amidst the plans and models of many an unsuccessful invention.

Patent office officials were more than usually attentive. They knew of the many previous attempts to build an electric organ, and they were interested in doing their utmost to push into production any product that gave even slight promise of providing jobs for workers. As the organist began to play, the rich tones filtered through the building, attracting to the basement a crowd of employees from the upper floors. It was not difficult to predict that the originality and worth of Hammond’s invention would lead to quick approval. The patent was granted, in almost record time, on April 24, 1934.

The world’s first practical electric organ was scarcely back in Chicago when, on February 7, 1934, two engineers from the Ford Motor Company arrived with instructions from Henry Ford himself. They were to survey the field and determine whether they could build an electric organ for the music-loving inventor of the Ford automobile. When they heard the Hammond Organ and examined its design, they knew that their job had been done for them. Their report to Ford brought forth the first order for the musical instrument that was not yet in production. Delivery of one of the first models bff the line was promised following public introduction. By the fall a few hand-built demonstration models had been completed and the performance was so satisfactory that tools and dies for production were ordered. Cabinetmakers,


electricians, electronic engineers, machine operators and assemblers were put to work. By spring a sizeable stock of Hammond Organs had been produced, tested, and boxed for delivery. The company deficit had improved from $240,844 in 1933 to a loss of $137,176 for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1934, because of improving clock sales. But the new musical instrument was to save the day and change a clock company into an electric organ manufacturer.

Active in the development of the organ in its first year was Milwaukeean John Hanert. As a youth he had played pipe organ accompaniment for silent movies and later gone to work for Captain Ranger who invented the vacuum tube organ that was demonstrated briefly in the early 1930’s.

Hanert, in 1934, read in the paper about the Hammond Organ patent and decided he would like to be a member of the Hammond research team. Because of his knowledge of music and electrical and electronic engineering, he was employed as a research engineer. His inventive mind produced many Hammond innovations—the Solovox, the vibrato system, the Extravoice and the pedal solo unit. His vibrato system was the first that could be used with tone generators of the wheel type. In all, his patents totaled 57. Undoubtedly worth recalling, for sheer prodigious inventiveness and hard work, was his wartime device he called an automatic orchestra.

Full orchestra sounds were actually created under the direction of a central “electric brain’ conductor that, fantastic for the time, read directly from musical scores written with a special pencil. Impractical for production, it was a marvel of ingenuity and complexit Hanert, who had served the company for 28 years, was vice president for research at the time of his tragic death in an auto accident in 1962.

Emory Penny, sales manager since the days of the unpredictably explosive A-Box, and John Hanert were selected to present the new organ to the public. Loading one of the first units produced into a battered Ford panel truck. they set out for New York and the first (and only) Industrial Arts Exposition in Radio City’s RCA building. But on the way they were to stop off in Detroit and give a demonstration for the company’s first customer—Henry Ford.

Early rising Ford met early arriving Penny and Hanert at the Dearborn Laboratories which they had reached along rough and muddy roads that gave the electric organ an unintended road test for durability. Reluctantly following directions to drive their truck into a building with gleaming oak floors, they patiently waited half the day for the motor tycoon to give their organ a hearing. Their stay, hardly relieved by Ford’s practicing hillbilly band and a lunch of grueling soybean dishes, ended with an audience that produced an unexpected order for six organs.

One of the Ford organs was exhibited for more than a quarter of a century in Ford’s Greenfield Museum in Dearborn until consumed in a fire that destroyed many “firsts” of American industry. During those years it was seldom idle, however, for Henry Ford routed it through all of his plants and loaned it for many worthwhile causes.

The road from Detroit lay straight to New York City where, on April 15, 1935, the Hammond electric organ was unveiled to nearly unanimous critical acclaim. Pietro A. Yon, organist of New York City’s St. Patrick Cathedral, and Fritz Reiner, later conductor of the Chicago Symphony, took turns at the keyboard, as did George Gershwin who immediately ordered one for his own use. Metropolitan Opera stars Rosa Ponselle and Giovanni Martinelli sang to the Hammond Organ’s accompaniment that day, while Deems Taylor looked in approvingly.




The list of top flight musicians who took the Hammond to heart and home reads like a directory of concert and radio stars...Leopold Stokowski, Walter Damrosch, Sir Thomas Beecham, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Rudy Vallee, Lawrence Welk, Hal Kemp and many another. Production and delivery of organs was more the problem in those first months of 1935 than selling. Organ demonstrations were arranged at such public places as skating rinks and race tracks. These public showings created the headline news that popularized the instrument.

The company’s first advertisement in the April 25th issue of Musical America
magazine was, with its dignified, institutional style message and layout, in sharp contrast with the publicity stunts. “A notable musical development,” the ad began. “The Hammond Organ is a new musical instrument. Yet it is built to conform to established pipe organ standards, requires

pipe organ technique of the musician who market until after World War II. plays it, and produces the entire range of tone coloring necessary for the rendition, without sacrifice, of the great works of classical organ literature. In addition, it permits many tone colors never before heard on any musical instrument. It is installed by plugging into an electric light socket

The first demonstration models were plugged into light sockets over much of the nation during that first year. Penny, applying the same fervor to the organ that he had to the selling of clocks and bridge tables, piled up orders for 1,400 organs as he visited one music dealer after another from coast to coast.

Prices starting at $1,250 would have seemed likely to discourage depression era buyers, but the cost was actually negligible compared to the heavy investment required for a traditional pipe organ. And of great sales value, aside from the instrument’s instantly popular sound, was the fact that the Hammond Organ never required tuning and its maintenance was little more than an occasional drop or two of oil. Penny worked long and hard to place the new Hammond line with leading music dealers. In New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston, however, company-owned and operated studios were the chosen alternative.

One of the first to stand enthralled in the lobby of the Hammcnd Clock Company on Western Avenue as the new electrical instrument was played was Mitt Herth. He had spent his last 15 cents for carfare to see and hear this wonder of the day. Not long after, in August, 1935, stony broke, he hitched a ride to Gary, Indiana, to audition as organist at radio station WIND. He got the job, and, for 30 years has been “married to the Hammond.” Herth’s staccato style of playing the Hammond on WIND and other radio stations caught on quickly and became the distinguishing characteristic of his work. His “Stomping at the Savoy” recording of 1936 was the first of many discs that helped build his fame as a leading entertainer of theater, radio and night clubs.

The honor of owning the first Hammond Organ has been a matter of controversy, with George Gershwin being accorded the title. But in actuality, the Hammond instrument with serial Number One was delivered to Kansas City and sold to the Paseo Methodist Church. More than a dozen years later, Reverend Edward W. Potts wrote the company that upkeep on the organ had amounted only to a new set of tubes for the amplifier. . . but he added that
he might soon need to order another can of oil!

The Paseo organ has now been replaced by a later model, but Hammond Number One is still performing. Twenty-five hundred organs were produced without any change in the model. The Swell and Great manuals each had 61 keys and there was a 25 note pedal keyboard. There were 36 harmonic drawbars, two sets of nine for each manual, and two drawbars for the foot pedals to control the 8’ and 16’ organ tones. In addition there were 18 preset keys that enabled the organist to switch instantly to the instrumental or other voice he desired without setting the harmonic drawbars.

The 359 pound instrument also had one expression pedal controlling the Swell, Great and Pedal keyboards, and there was one adjustable tremulant for all three. Alt this was contained in a console, or cabinet, that was only a fraction over four feet wide, three feet high and two feet deep. “Church organ in a packing box” was a reasonably exact description.

A second model was introduced in 1936, the only change being a new case with somewhat different woodwork. A third model for the church market was virtually the same. These early models changed the old clock company’s deficit of $38,256 in 1935 to a profit of $228,393 in 1936... and the March year end figure in 1937 was a positive $364,680.

Beginning in 1937, a series of new models was introduced, each designed to meet special marketing requirements.

Business was booming in 1937 for Hammond despite another slump in the general economy. The company was still selling clocks, but it was apparent that organs would be a substantial part of the company’s business, so the company name was changed to the Hammond Instrument Company to cover any additional products which might be made in the future. An additional plant was put into production on Chicago’s Bloomingdate Avenue and a warehouse leased on George Street.


The two Hammond “Men of the Year” could hardly have been so described at the time, although one has already appeared in this story—Thomas George. George’s efforts to perfect an organ that generated tone from radio vacuum tubes had reached one stage of fruition and he had applied for a patent. But finding no manufacturer rushing to him with marketing plans, he came to Hammond for a job. His period of services to the company extended over a period of seven years until he resigned in 1943. After years of negotiations, he eventually succeeded in having his organ built and marketed under his given name of Thomas. Some 20 years later he returned to the Hammond fold in the role of a consultant, a position he still holds in 1965.

The other new employee who joined the Hammond staff in 1937 was John A. Volkober who started as an office boy. In 1965, he was named president of Hammond Organ Company when Sorensen became chairman of the board.

The term “routine” might have been applied to the Hammond business in 1937 until, one day, a “time bomb” communication was received. It was a so-called stipulation from the Federal Trade Commission asserting that certain statements in Hammond advertising were not completely accurate.

The complaint, in general, said that the Hammond instrument was not an “organ” and that it could not produce an “infinite number” of tone variations. Laurens Hammond, more the self-effacing and quiet inventor than a public pugilist, nevertheless decided to fight. He was a participant in one of the most amazing events in the history of music.

The FTC had decided to have an impartial panel listen to a $75,000 pipe organ and a $2,600 Hammond installation to determine whether the panelists could tell the difference. Players of both instruments were hidden from view by screens and the Hammond speaker cabinets were concealed among the organ pipes at the University of Chicago Chapel.

A panel of 15 students and 15 professional musicians was asked to record whether it was the pipe organ or the Hammond electric organ that was being played in a number of test pieces. That these jurors were wrong in their answers ten times out of 30 was indication enough that the Hammond had carved itself a permanent niche in the musical instrument field. A year later the FTC decided that the company could call its instrument an organ but must desist from claiming an infinite number of tones . . . for, after all, it could produce only 253,000,000 tones!

The Model ‘E” Hammond Organ. 


The Novachord was an instrument conceived largely in Laurens Hammond’s mind—an organ that would produce all the sounds of an orchestra from notes generated by radio vacuum tubes. Introduced in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair, with Collins Driggs at the keyboard, it seemed to provide what the musical world had wanted.

Resembling a piano in appearance, the device produced music with amazing resemblance to that of a dance band. But the public evidently preferred to see the band, and the instrument never caught on.

The Novachord was discontinued at the outbreak of World War II but the basic idea in this first purely electronic organ was predecessor to all the Hammond and other vacuum tube and transistor sound generating organs on the market today.

A curious product appeared under the Hammond name in 1938; curious because it seemed to take a step backward out of the electrical age and borrow some wind from the old pipe organ. It was a roll player organ. The instrument was the basic 1937 BC model Hammond in a slightly higher case to accommodate the roll playing mechanism that was made available through agreement with the Aeolian Skinner Organ Company of Boston. The basic price of $2,000, however, was more than the public wanted to pay for an automatic organ, so the model was discontinued after that first year.

But Hammond Company had more tricks up its sleeve. In 1940 it introduced the Solovox, an electronic apparatus invented by John Hanert to augment a piano with accompaniment of orchestral sounds. The Solovox, generating sound with vacuum tubes, had a three octave keyboard like the piano but was arranged so that it could be played in six octaves. It had 12 tone selectors that produced a broad range of sound effects instantly popular with piano entertainers and piano owners. Three models were brought out in the years from 1940 to 1948, after which it was discontinued.


A story about the earliest Hammond products links two of the famous personalities of that and a later day. Arrangements were made for a Hammond Organ to be presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Warm Springs, Georgia, Polio Foundation. The presentation was made at the Hammond studios in New York City with Mrs. Roosevelt accepting on behalf of the Foundation. Her signature was added to the guest book that carried the autographs of many of the great figures of the musical and non-musical worId.

A year later, New York’s Governor Tom Dewey came to the studios to buy a Solovox for use with the grand piano he had just purchased. As he idly thumbed through the guest book, his eye fell on the name of the peripatetic and ubiquitous Eleanor Roosevelt. Astonished to find her signature in an organ studio, Dewey could only remark aloud: “That old girl really gets around, doesn’t she?”

Another famous woman who really “got around”, and contributed immensely to the spreading popularity of the electric organ, was the noted organist Ethel Smith. Stories var~ as to where she first saw the Hammond. But whether it was on a Hollywood movie lot or while she was vacationing in Miami, Ethel fell in love with the Hammond and the Harnmond people fell in love with Ethel.

It was while she was playing at the St. Regis Hotel, bored to tears with the routine job, that she received a phone call from the New York Hammond Studios and was told to dress her best and rush over. When she arrived she met the owner of the elegant Copacahana Club in Rio de Janeiro who wanted an attractive girl who owned a Hammond to play his club for a 26 week engagement. Ethel wanted the job, and got it. But without the money to buy a Hammond, it was arranged to let her take one with a record minimum down payment. She stayed in Brazil about a year, as fascinated with learning the South American rhythms as her audiences were in hearing her play them on the Hammond.

After her return to New York, Ethel Smith was entertaining on the St. Regis roof one evening when she was asked to join a gentleman at his table. The man was George Washington Hill, fabled head of the American Tobacco Company. He had heard her play in Rio and wanted her for his Saturday night radio program, The Hit Parade.

Her career truly launched, Ethel Smith earned some of the highest fees ever paid a radio instrumentalist, appeared in several movies, and established a music publishing house that has one of the world’s largest stocks of music for the Hammond Organ. Her recording of “Tico Tico” sold more than two million copies, and her “Bouquet of Blues” disc in 1960 was the first recorded collection of blues played on the Hammond.

Affairs of the company were not greatly disturbed in 1940, although the year was marked with recognition of Laurens Hammond’s electronic organ at two of the highest scientific and industrial levels. He was awarded the Franklin Institute’s John Price Wetherell medal and the National Association of Manufacturers’ Modern Pioneer Award.

Pearl Harbor year of 1941 marked the end of Hammond’s civilian production for the duration, as it did for so many others.

America’s entry into the war put Hammond into the military production “front lines.” However, a limited run of electric alarm clocks was produced, and about 1,400 “GI” electric organs were made for service personnel aship and ashore around the world. Many of these organs, containing the mechanism of the Church Model D with its chorus generator (produced 1939-1942), can still be seen in their wartime cabinets at army posts, in hospitals and aboard naval vessels performing their religious and entertainment functions.  


During the war period, Hammond leased a Ravenswood Avenue plant for war work and a building on Oakley Avenue for research and development. The company designed and manufactured many of the flight control systems for glide bombs and for the Northrup Flying Wing. It developed and gave to the air force a flight path simulator computer for training glide bomb pilots. Also developed by Laurens Hammond and his engineers were infra-red and light-sensing devices for bomb guidance, a new type gyroscope for control systems. a mechanical shutter for high speed aerial cameras, a simple and inexpensive bank and turn indicator, and a “throw away” device for determining a plane’s altitude The latter apparatus was dropped out of the plane, emitting a radio signal until it crashed into the ground or water. The elapsed time of fall would indicate the plane’s altitude.

The Hammond Organ sang many a song of reverence and camaraderie during the second world war. One, mounted on a truck, traveled the length and breadth of the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. Astonished natives, knowing nothing but the sound of their tribal drums, came out of the bush to listen in wonderment. In cold Aleutian is~and outposts, the Hammond was heard in chapels and recreation halls. It launched a ship in Seattle, relieved monotony for troops at gun batteries on the West Coast, and played for memorial services for President Roosevelt on Okinawa only two weeks after the invasion.



A Hammond Organ found amidst the complete destruction of the Evangelical Church near Baguio in the Philippines, was playing again as soon as electricity was restored.

Wherever there was a Hammond, there was never a shortage of men to play it, strange as it seems. And part of the reason was that pianists among the troops had little difficulty mastering the technique of the electric organ. Often the sound of electric music welled from tents and shacks and quonsets on the most forbidding war fronts at all unlikely hours of the day as GI’s practiced on the Hammond.

Many sent money home regularly throughout their service to build a fund for buying an organ after the war. The music of the Hammond followed the men to war, and the men returned to follow hobbies and careers with the Hammond.

With VJ Day celebrating vic-tory over the Japanese and the end of that awful war, theHammond company quickly converted back to civilian production. Laurens Hammond stepped out of his laboratory to assume active management of the company during the illnesses of Vice President Forrest Redmond and Treasurer Cedric V. Merrill in 1946.

Upon Redmond’s return to work, Assistant Treasurer Sorensen was assigned to drive him to and from work to give him an opportunity to learn much from Redmond in the areas of general management. When Redmond died in 1953, Sorensen was elected executive vice president and general manager.

The organ was greatly improved after the war, incorporating many additions. Most significant of the features of the new organ was the vibrato, an effect that had been difficult to achieve despite many. attempts.

The tremulant sound is a fluctuation in the intensity or volume while vibrato is a fluctuation in pitch. The Hammond vibrato not only produced this effect without the delay caused by slow-acting mechanical parts, but it could be controlled in various degrees. The sound is pleasant to hear because vibrato’s wavering sound waves affect more nerves in the ear. The vibrato was available on both home and church models from 1946 on, and, in 1949, was improved so that it could be used on both manuals simultaneously or on either manual separately. This latter advance also was accompanied by a control for normal or soft overall volume of the music.

Also introduced in 1949 was a concert organ, Model RT, which incorporated a unique pedal note solo system with separate volume control. The growth in organ sales and diversity of product line since the end of the war had increased the company’s need for additional office and production space. As a solution, the Hammond company purchased a building at 4200 Diversey Avenue that, later enlarged, still serves as the main office of the corporation.

The year of 1949 requires a place of its own in the annals of the modern organ industry for it marked a turning point in the conception of both market
and product.

Previously, Hammond Organ models and those of competitors had not been designed primarily for the home. Since many Hammond Organs were going into homes, Hammond management again led the industry in concluding that an untapped market lay in plain sight—the average American homee that a popular-priced organ could offer enough musical value to draw customers from the piano market, and from an even more implausible group of people who had never played a note on any instrument in their lives.

The Hammond staff invented, designed and built the “Cinderella” organ and saw it transformed into the reigning princess of the industry. The new product was the Hammond Spinet Model M.

Those who saw the new Spinet organ recognized that its size—slightly smaller than the first Hammond Model A—was perfectly dimensioned for a modern living room or game room. And there was no need for additional space for amplifying and speaker equipment, for these were all housed in the console. The styling was functional and attractive, the music was “real organ” and the price of Sl,285—only $35 more than the Hammond of more than a dozen years ago—was right.

That the Hammond Spinet had only 44 keys on each of its two manuals instead of the standard 61 did not dismay any considerable number of potential buyers. They wanted organ music in their homes, and here it was! They learned to play with the two manuals and the 12-note keyboard. They learned to play for their own pleasurable relaxation and for the entertainment of their friends. Many became skilled organists and traded in their Spinets for larger and more versatile Hammond models.

The Spinet, like all Hammond Organs, was “built like a battleship.” Small churches bought them and large churches used them in their chapels. And, the ultimate compliment, Hammond’s competitors quickly rushed their own smaller sized organs onto the market in imitation of the leader. Within six years, Hammond sold more Spinets than all of the organs it had previously produced.



The Spinet brought friends and neighbors together for listening, learning, and old fashioned barber shop harmony singing. These meetings in homes of Hammond owners led to the spontaneous formation of Hammond Organ Societies for combining music with an evening of fun and relaxation. Among the first of these was the society in St. Louis. Later, in 1957, the Hammond Organ Society of Tacoma, Washington, built its own clubhouse with the labor of its members, another Hammond “first.”

So enthusiastic were these society members that Hammond Organ Company developed a program for them, using many of the ideas employed by its dealers on the scene. A book of instruction on organization, programs, publicity and many other topics was supplemented with membership certificates, cards and badges, letterhead, party napkins . . . all the essentials for getting groups started and keeping them actively interested in their music. Today there are some 500 Hammond Organ Societies across the country. For any who may have asked “how much simpler can an organ be,” Hammond had an answer the very next year - the first “chord organ” that anyone could learn to play in simple tuneful fashion in a few minutes. Unlike anything seen or thought of before, it was so eminently practical for the person who had never touched a keyboard that anotherwhole market area opened up. With its simplicity and attractive price of only $975, many households began to weigh a Hammond Organ against a piano. Many families began to consider organ playing well within the capabilities of their children. What had always been a predominantly adult instrument was now an organ for everyone. It was meant to be played for fun and not as an instrument for producing trained organists.


The Chord Model S had a single, three-octave manual with 37 keys. In addition, it had something brand new, unless it could be compared with the chord buttons on an accordion a panel of 96 buttons producing any of those selected chords when the key was depressed with the fingers of the left hand. It also contained a patented automatic feature of two foot pedals that selected the “root” note and the “fifth” tone of any chord played.

To make things even easier for new learners, special sheet music was developed in accord with the most recent educational discoveries. Instead of being printed horizontally, the staffs were vertical and the notes were marked as squares, with the proper directions for operating the chord buttons clearly shown. Playing the Chord Organ became as easy as reading an ordinary road map or, for many map-puzzled motorists, far easier.

The sounds of the Hammond Chord Organ originated, not in the electro-mechanical sound generator of standard Hammonds, but in electronic vacuum tubes. In fact, part of the Wcircuitry of the Solovox was built into the new product.

Millions of dollars were spent in advertising to bring people into dealers’ stores to try the Spinet and Chord for themselves. The belief that many people are tone deaf, cannot carry a tune, and, therefore, cannot produce music, was virtually relegated to the area of myth. Prospects found themselves playing tunes like “Silent Night” in ten minutes . . and a large proportion were those who had never dared open their mouths at a songfest.

Dealers offered a limited number of free lessons to both Chord and Spinet buyers in the manner popularized and proved successful long ago with the sewing machine. Another program was a rental plan with free lessons. The renters became buyers in almost 90 percent of the cases, and the number who defaulted later on their extended payment plans was infinite small. In fact, there were reports of people letting their cars go before sacrificing their organs.

Realizing that the teachers of these new organ owners would be the best of all possible spokesmen for the Company, Hammond set up a progrAm of teacher workshops in 1951 under the direction of Porter Heaps. Two hundred of these one-day teacher meetings were held over a three-year period for some 6,000 music teachers. They were taught methods for overcoming any lack of confidence, often common to beginners, and ways to maintain their initial enthusiasm as they progressed into more complex scores. In addition, the company published “Tips for Teachers” six times a year, a magazine, “Chord Organ Comments,” and made available to them a comprehensive catalog of instructional materials, Porter Heaps Teachers Handbook, solos, current and classic songs, and organ albums.


Hammond continues, and constantly improves, its many-faceted program for organ teachers. Since its beginning, Hammond Organ Company has relied heavily on the advice and support of music teachers and professional musicians, New models are subjected to the criticisms and suggestions of panels of these experts. They, like the dealers, are close to the needs and desires of electric organ prospects and owners. It is they who greatly affect
the success of the product and the company’.

The Chord Organ was produced for a time in a leased plant on St. Paul Street but production was moved in 1953 to a company-purchased building at 4045 North Rockwell Street. At that time the name of the company was changed to Hammond Organ Company, The Hammond Instrument Western Export Corporation, established a year earlier to handle Western hemisphere bussiness. outside the United States, was renamed the Hammond Organ Western Export Corporation.

To handle the company’s mounting volume of business with more efficience. a building with ground area for parking and future expansion was purchased in Chicago’s western suburb of Melrose Park in 1956. All Hammond Organs are now assembled and shipped from the Melrose Park plant. At the same time, a three-story annex was added to the Diverse building.

In the period following the introduction of the Spinet organ. the company concentrated its efforts on the refinement of its products, rather than the development of new products. Its efforts were directed toward making more efficiently the several models of the Hammond

Organ in an attempt to provide the consumer the greatest musical value for the dollar. In this period, the engineering staff of Hammond Organ Company was small and occupied itself largely with the activities of finding newer and better ways to produce the Hammond Organ. Engineering development of new products and features was minimal.

It was recognized by management that in any market situation which was growing with the speed with which the market for Hammond Organs was gro ing and any product which stirred the imagination and excitement of the consumer as did the Hammond Organ would soon encourage others to attempt to harvest the profits available in this growing market. So, under Sorensen’s direction and in anticipation of those competitive encroachments, engineering activities were expanded

substantially to provide for the development of new’ products and new product features so that the Hammond Organ would continue to be the leader in the industry’, not only in terms of its sales volume but in terms of its introduction of newer and more advanced organ models.

At that time, steps were taken to broaden the company’s distribution base through the gradual expansion of its dealer outlets and with particular emphasis on the establishment of Hammond Organ Studios. The Hammond Organ Studio was a concept which had  been developed earlier by a management committee composed of young company executives for the purpose of exploiting the sales opportunity in secondary markets which were not being effectively’ covered by its then franchised music dealers. The Studio concept had not been promoted aggressively until this time, although a few Studios had been established under private ownership and had been very successful.

In the same period, greater emphasis was placed on out-of-store promotions in Recognition of the fact that relatively few people were aware of the existence of organs for the home or, if they were aware, thought of the organ as something too difficult to play and, therefore, not suitable for them. This was the beginning of the out-of-store promotion program and ofthe “easy-to-play” theme for selling organs, which dominates selling in the industry to this day.

Until that time, the company had been informally organized because that type of an organization was best suited for the company. As it grew’ and the pace quickened, it became apparent that a somewhat formal organization should be established and that there should be a greater delegation of responsibility to trusted subordinates so that the company’s actions  the competitive market place could be more spontaneous.

While Hammond Organs had been sold in many foreign countries prior to World War II the company had not been able to expand its foreign business, except in Canada, until the conclusion of the Korean conflict. This was not due to any lack of interest on the part of the company but was largely a matter of foreign currency restrictions. As such restrictions have been eased, the company has moved aggressively into the foreign markets and, as of 1965, approximately 10 per cent of the company’s total organ and reverberation business comes from the foreign market which continues to grow even more rapidly then the domestic market.

For much of its organ product life, the company’ was unchallenged It was the industry that it had created. Electric organ was synonomous with the Hammond and its tone wheel generator that by its very nature could never get out of tune. Hammond became a word in dictionaries, encyclopedias and text books.

In later years, however, competitive products emerged, as has always been the case in the growth pattern of all new businesses. The competition has been healthy for the industry, for music, and for the country. The mushroom growth of electric and electronic organ ownership is a visible indicator of more jobs for more people and more pleasure for untold thousands. New careers have opened in this area of engineering, in organ manufacture and marketing, in teaching and professional playing in both religious and entertainment fleids.

The electric organ’s main competitor in the musical instrument field (excluding the relatively inexpensive guitar) had always been the piano, long an article of furniture and symbol of prestige, as much as a producer of music, in American homes. But in 1958 the tables were reversed. Console organ sales surpassed those of the piano in total retail dollar volume, a pattern to continue to the present without interruption, save for a slight drop behind in 1959. In unit volume, of course, pianos still hold the lead as the electric organ is a more expensive instrument. In 1964, for example, 220,000 pianos were sold compared with 121,500 console organs, according to the American Music Conference.

The astounding growth of the organ industry is best shown in the increase of people playing the instrument. In 1955 the total was 825,000, while in 1964 it was 3,600,000. And yet the organ today is found in only about three percent of American homes, a figure that leads statistical forecasters to predict a future industry growth to reach a home saturation of five to six times its present size.

The Hammond firm’s growth pattern in its first 30 years of organ manufacture is the tracery of a space rocket. its total assets on March 31, 1934, were 5828.346. At fiscal year end in 1965 they were S28.341.250.

One oricinal share of the company’s stock has increased to 32 shares through stock splits and the 2.987.222 outstanding shares are held by’ 10,000 shareholders who received dividends of $1.40 a share in 1965, when after tax earnings were $5,961,719 from sales totaling 550.634.243.

The concept of reverberation occurred to Laurens Hammond in 1939. He understood that sound leaving an organ, or any instrument, goes in all directions. Part of the sound wave travels directly to the listener’s ear, but much of it bounces off wails. ceiline. floor, furniture and other objects. thus delaying its “reception” by’ the ear.

The differences in travel times and volume create an overlapping effect when heard, some waves reinforcing each other, some damping or canceiling  out completely.The resultant sound is what people are accust- omed to hear; not the pure sound at its origin point.

To achieve this effect beforethe sound leaves the organ speaker. he developed a coil spring device, using oil filled tubes for damping, through which the sound was required to travel. By arranging different length paths. the sound was made to echo or reverberate.

in 1958. Herbert Meinema.a Hammond engineer, developed a so-called dry reverberation unit employing helical springs somewhat resembling screen door springs. The sound was made to travel through springs of different lengths and different quality, sometimes two or more springs being hooked together to delay the sound exactly the right length of time. The musical notes. passing through these varying “speed traps”. produced the echo effect.

This development led, in 1959, to the introduction of a new’ and improved reverberation unit. The new unit was smaller and lower in cost than the unit Hammond had used since 1939. it avoided 

the necessity of using oil filled tubes. It thereby became useable not only in organ tone cabinets, but also within organ consoles. In addition, it has found use in hi-fl equipment and automobile radios. It has become a contributing factor in company earnings, and its contribution is expected to increase as more and more automobiles are equipped with reverberation units of the present compact size.

The “turn of the decade” is remembered for an event and an innovation that vastly broadened the audience and the market for the Hammond Organ. Dedicated to the public at Chicago’s world renowned Museum of Science and industry was an extensive and elaborate Hammond exhibit on the physics of sound and the art of music. Daily over succeeding years thousands of school children and adults have operated the automated displays that make visual and audible the waves of air and the waves of electricity that make the music that man has always loved.

Laurens Hammond in 1960 could look back on 25 years electric organ his tory with pride. He had invented a new kind of musical instrument.
He had foundad a new industry. In his lifetime, he had been granted 90 patents since the first one when he was a child in France. It had been a busy life. a productive life, a devoted one. And there were many good years ahead.

For a few sears prior to his retirement, Laurens Hammond “practiced” retirement by taking extended vacations, giving Sorensen ample opportunity to run the company completely on his own. Upon his final retirement on February 12, 1960, he left without fanfare, the way he had always lived, and disassociated himself from the company. Since the time, he has been enjoying his welldeserved retirement betuesn his homes here and abroad, finally having found the time he always wanted to devote to reading, the theater, opera. Sports, acting and traveling.



In The innovation of the times was Hammond’s new offering of abroadened number of sties in console cabinetry. Organs, it had always been believed, should look like organs. So, following Henry Ford’s ruling that a customer could have any color Model T just so long as it was black Hammond had kept its models pristine, traditional and practically unchanging.

It was the introduction of the electric organ into the home that required a new a at-look. Modern women wanted their homes to be as beautiful as the color plates in magazInes. They wanted French Provinciai. Tudor or Contemporary They liked red mahogany, or walnut or cherry. They wanted a choice and Hammond concurred.  

Interior decorators were consulted, and the company’s woodworking devision experimented with many’ beautiful native and imported woods. New stains and finishes were finishes were inverstigated

The result was a line of organs available in many styles, wods and finishes all the equall or superior of the finest furniture made To help the buyer in his selection the compagny

promoted a program of decorating aids. Designers were enlisted to explain that Beauty is the sum of diffeerences . , , that styles of difi’erent eras and woods of contrasting tone can be as successfully mixed as they can be harmonized. The product was beautifu music encased in beautiful furniture.

Hammond woodworking craftsmen  machinery and raw material at tK enx manufacturers. The beautiful cabinetry that marks the entire organ line is as meticulousy machined and fitted as many crdical meial components of the instrument’s tone wheel generator.

Visitors to the woodworking plant often express astonishment on seeing great machines drill dozens of holes at many angles in one operation, much as automatic devises do the job on drilling an. auto engine block. Then inspectors check the tolerance with all the minute precision of a tool and die maker. That wood, subject to expansion and contraction, can thus be "machined” in the metalworkinn sense has been the subject of several studic by woodworking trade magazines.

This attention to detail begins the minute the wood arrives at the plant for storage. kiln drying, shaping, gluing and finishing. The wood is expensive inhialiy, for it is carefully selected as to color, grain and blemishes. The work that is added makes understandable the dollar value of perfection.

This same pattern of modern. techniques, critical inspection, and quality control is encountered in every phase of Hammond manufacture. Since the first Hammond Organ in 1934, quality has been built into the product . , . the kind of quality that lasts through the years. If no machine is available to do the job properly, Hammond engineers design one that will. Many of the plant operations today rely’ on Hammond-designed and Hammond-made tools and equipment.

In 1964 the company changed advertising and public relations agencies to assist it in attaining the new dimensions it has staked out for itself. A three-man market development group has been named to implement a three-year program to expand its dealer outlet organization in the U.S.A. that now numbers 600. New Hammond Organ Studio dealers will be assisted financially, when needed, given markets of proven potential, and trained and supervised as have those in the past.

Sophisticated planning includes product forecasts for three to five years in advance. It means improvement of employee relations, good as they have always been, through better insurance benefits, training programs, and attitude surveys. Today’s pattern also includes wage and salary analysis and psychological testing.

There is a product design committee of engineers, division management personnel, and marketing people who are responsible for making recommendations to corporate management. Regional sales meetings, service clinics and training schools are scheduled regularly to upgrade personnel and open channels of communication.

Very effective in the area of communication is Hammond’s “President’s Dealer Panel” set up in 1962. Dealers in each of 12 districts elect a member to the Panel for a three-year term. These Panel members meet three times a year in Chicago for two-day meetings with management personnel on matters of mutual interest.

The company has made it plain that it plans to grow in the organ field, diversify internally with new products, and acquire outside operations that are suitable. The Gibbs manufacturing and Research Corporation of Janesville, Visconin, which was engaged in sophisticated electronics and eiectro-mechanical work primarily for the government, oWered an opportunity to the company to diversify in non-musical products. The appeal of this company was somewhat enhanced by a development project in whIch it was engaged. an institutionallv directed organ which was intended to sim iate very closely the sound of a pipe organ.

After the acquisition of the Gibbs corporation in 1961, and after the expenditure of consider ,ble engineering effort and money in the further development of this organ project. it was the consensus of Hammond’s engineering and marketing people that this project be aY tndored Further disappointment in the acquisition was brought about when, because of its acquisition by a large company, Gibbs lost its status as a small business and was not eligible for the preferential government treatment afforded such companies. Therefore, it was necessary for Gibbs to retrench and to develop new products which would enable it to operate under its new status. This challenge was successfully met. The company now’ operates profitable its output grows comfortably each year.

In the period when the status of the Gibbs corporation was uncertain, Hammond Organ Company transferred to it the responsibility for the manufacture of its reverberation devices, Therefore, it is interesting to note that while that device successFully carried Gibbs through its retrenchment period, Gibbs also successfully’ promoted the sale of the device in nun-organ applications and increased its government work as well.

Hammond Organ Company had expressed an interest in diversifying in the musical instrument field. In casting around for possible acquisitions in that industry, in 1962 it settled on the Everett Piano Company of South Haven, Michigan, which was of moderate size, well managed and highly respected in the piano industry.

The opportunity for broadening Everett’s base of distribution and increasing its sales through more aggressive marketing techniques were factors that made this a desirable acquusition. The Everett Piano Company has proven its worth in that its output has increased since its acquisition by Hammond Organ Company to the point that its manufacturing facilities where recently’ expanded to permit even further production. it is a source of supply for Hammond Pianos. which were intended originally for sale exclusively through Hammond Organ Studios, but, because of the name ‘Hammond” and their consumer-oriented styling, they also have found favor with a great number of general line music dealers.

The Hammond International Division is responsible for overseas sales of organs, pianos and reverberation devices, which provide a steadily increasing percentage of compagny business. In addition to its Hammond Organ Western Export Corporation. the company in 1964 set up two joint ventures: Hammond Organ (U.K.I Ltd. in London and Organo’s Hammond de Mexico in Mexico City’. A similar venture is in process of negotiation for South .Africa. Organs distributed through these channels are assembled locally by native craftsmen. to Hammond specifications. (The wholly’ ow’ned subsidiary. Hammond S.A. in Lausanne. Switzerland. was dissolved in 1965 because of a change in federal tax laws.)

The foreign distribution of Hammond products is thus routed through several channels. but at the final retail level the pattern much resembles the one developed in the United States. There are today’ more than 200 outlets in 60 countries, and the list is continualiy lenghtning

Hammond is rightfully proud of the dealer organization it developed from the 1930' on. The full line music houses that were awaarded Hammond franchises were carefully selected for reputation. financial stability, and creative marketing. Few of those iudgements were ever proved wrong.

In the same manner, the new idea of establishing independent Hammond Organ studios or retail outlets. was carefully structured on plausible geographic market lines. In many. cases the dealerships went to people who had no previous experience in the selling of musical instruments. First consideration was given to business abiiitx and the other factors guiding franchise allotment to music stores. In this ooeraticn—now totaling 150 independently owned studios—the pattern of long and successful tenure of franchises was repeated. was the Hammond marketing plan that it was widely copied by the organ industry. And this has long been the case, too, with Hammond innovations for increasinc oonula. Organ playing which is the basis of increased sales.

The opening years of the century's seventh decade were not ones of laggardness in improving product and the plant that produced it. Another addition was constructed at the Diversey building to accommodate the expanded office force.



The new M-l00 and L-l00 Organs of 1961 provided improved instruments in both the medium and lower priced field, with reverberation as one of the added features and. for the first time. provided tabs in addition to drawbars for tone control and playing facility.

Undoubtedly’ the year 1964 will be recorded as one of the outstanding peaks of Hammond Organ development. The instrument of note and w’ide acclaim was the Hammond Grand 100 concert organ w’hich has 50 speaking stops for playing all classic, baroque. romantic. and modern music. Each stop of this organ is separately derived without unification or borrowing. It also contains an antiphonal division entirely independent of the main organ. Priced at S13,750, the Grand 100 represented the most sophisticated and expensive instrument in the Hammond line. Prior to its introduction, the highest priced Hammond Organ sold for S4.000.

The fact that Hammond Organ sales are predominantly’ to the home market does not detract from the great strides made in the institutional and concert area. Today the Hammond Organ is heard in more than 50,000 churches throughout the world. The historically’ famous Canterbury Cathedral rings with the great music from a Hammond RT model. It is played in the Cathedral of Mexico, largest in the Western Hemisphere and third largest in the world. There is a Hammond in the great Cathedral of St. Marv~s in Trenton. New Jersey, and in St. Mary’ Major of Rome. Almost every major religion and denomination emploding inspirational music has found the Hammond an instrument for spiritual warmth and economical service.

Hammond maintains an extensive program of special service activities for churches, schools and other institutions. It will survey the acoustical characteristics of the installation site, and even suggest ways to raise funds to pa~’ for the organ.

The mammoth audiences that have heard the Hammond Organ have perhaps never surpassed the 200.000 persons gathered at Bombay, india. in November and December, 1964. it was the 38th International Eucharistic Congress of the Catholic Church to w’hich Pope Paul VI made an unprecedented pilgrimage.


A comment of the organist playing for that great throng of worshippers is a tribute to Hammond quality and its musical and acoustic powers. “Although the assembly was an open air one.” he rote. “I always had the impression that I was playing in a cathedral—thanks to the marvelous reverberation system.”

Descending abruptly from the sublime, a recent report tells of an unusual institutional organ usage. In a department store in New York state. the organist playing for the Christmas shopper rush may suddenly be heard swinging into the somewhat unseasonal “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Not at all a Yuletime lapse. the abrupt transition alerts store detectives to the alarm that the organist from his elevated perch has spotted a robbery’ in progress in the jewelry department. Other appropriately coded songs are used to warn of thefts in other departments visible to the organist.

In the field of entertainment, Hammond has always led the popularity poll. Organists easily shifted from the gigantic theater organs of the past to the early, modestly-sized Hammond Model A. Over the years, more and more of the theater-type sounds were made available in improved organs. But not until 1965 and the Hammond X-66 (the X-66 is an engineering designation being used until the model is named in a contest ending March 31, 1961 were so many theater organ sounds incorporated in a Hammond instrument.

The story of the X-66 began some five years before its introduction when the Hammond management sponsored a contest among senior industrial design students at the Chicago Art Institute. Although surveys had revealed some demand for the horseshoe-shaped console of the theater organ of the 1920’s, it was determined that this nostalgia among “senior citizens’ would not likely be translated into any valuable volume of sales. So. in this instance, old winein a new bottle seemed the best answer. The students were asked to let their imaginations run wild.

The best designs were transferred to projection slides and shown to a panel of expert organists. From their decision, which was surprisingly unanimous, the prototype design was selected.

Year by year ideas for the instrument were suggested. culled, developed and rejected. Finally the ultimate in entertainment organs was unveiled. an instrument that the company’ is convinced knows no competition, It is a total musical evolution from the Model A to the present with many’ revolutionary new features and a futuristic design far ahead of its time.

The X-66 can be played so it sounds exactly like the Model A or any subsequent model. It can sound like competitive electronic organs or like a big theater pipe organ. It is all things to all people. It is the result of the new emphasis on consumer oriented products to meet the ever increasing needs of the marketplace.


The X-66 “space age” organ by no means stood alone in the Hammond story of 1965. It was one of many: more models were introduced in this year than in any’ previous one in company history. The more than 300 dealers from the United States and the distributors from foreign countries who met in Chicago to see their new product line found that they had an organ to meet most areas of competition and most buyers’ needs.  

The Hammond Organ story began in a loft over an Evanston grocery store. for it was there, even before an electric organ was contemplated. that the organization was born that was to become the founder of an industry and its leading member Today the Hammond name is known and respected around the world. and its nearly’ 3,000 employes in parent company and subsidiaries work in a million square feet of plant space. An initial investment of S25.000 has pvramided to a book value of more than S21 million.

Owners and players range over all areas of American life—former president Dwight D. Eisenhower and his brother. Milton. baseball’s Bob Feller. Blackstone the magician, humorist H. Allen Smith, Jack Benny. Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason . . and the new chief of the Central Intelligence Agency. Admiral William F. Ravborn. Jr. Even the Beatles’ Rinco

In 30 years, Hammond Organs have been sold throughout the world to the tune of one billion dollars. The stories they could tell would fill volumes. An industry -estimated 3.600.000 people are organ players today’ in the U.S.A. alone, proof that Laurens Hammonds invention has added full measure of pleasure. learning and emplo~’ment to our nation and the world.

As they review the past 30 years and the great strides which have been made by the company’ since the first Hammond Organ was introduced in 1935. Board Chairman Sorensen. President Yolkober and their staff look forward to even greater achievements for the organization which launched the organ industry.

With an outstanding line of organs for prospective customers of nearly’ every economic level and degree of musical ability, with a highly selective dealer organization, with strong top management teams in the areas of research, engineering, manufacturing and marketing, and with the financial capability necessary to support the continuing growth of the organization. Hammond Organ Company looks confidently to the expanding future of the organ industry’ and to its continued leadership in that industry’.

In the past four years, the company has broadened its product base by two acquisitions. The Everett Piano Company has strengthened its position in the music industry and the Gibbs Manufacturing and Research Corporation has brought the company into the field of sophisticated electronics and electro-mechanical manufacturing.

Hammond Organ Company continues its active search for additional acquisitions which would further broaden its product base and which would provide entry into areas in which it is not now represented.

The company that created an industry with the introduction of the Hammond Organ in 1935 has developed in three decades into an effectively integrated and diversified organization which enjoys a world-wide reputation for the high quality of its products. And it is planning for continued growth. both through new products developed by its present organization and through the acquisition of additional companies. Its potential—virtually unlimited!